N.C. Wesleyan isn’t the favorite to win its first USA South Conference Tournament in 14 seasons, but the Battling Bishops are in a rare position.
They simply have a chance.
After recent seasons of futility, coach Artina Trader’s fourth year has brought a winning league record, another layer of foundation for the future and a No. 4 seed heading into Friday’s opener against No. 5 Methodist when the USA South Women’s Basketball Tournament tips off at the Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville.
“We set some goals,” Trader said said. “We didn’t say we wanted to get X amount of wins. We just wanted to be in that four or five range so we could get good seeding for the tournament.”
Paced by seniors Leeann Breeden and Samantha Urquhart, the Battling Bishops (12-13, 11-7 USAS) finished the regular season with their best conference ecord since 2002. A victory Friday would match the team’s wins total from last season (13).
Trader said Breeden has passed her learning curve and become a dependable shooter and leader. Urquhart, a four-year starter, recently surpassed the 1,000-point scoring plateau.
She was named to the All-USA South Second Team on Wednesday.
“They both have been great in the locker room,” Trader said. “They have been at the bottom. They know how much work it takes to get to the top, and hopefully, the younger players understand that to sustain it we have to work just as hard.”
The Bishops will need a sizeable effort from their present and future standouts this weekend. They’ll open against Fayetteville-based Methodist, which won’t have a home-gym advantage, but will play just a few miles from its campus.
The two squads split their regular-season meetings, with each team winning its home game.
If the Bishops win, they’ll play top-ranked Ferrum on Saturday. Ferrum defeated N.C. Wesleyan, 105-82, on Jan. 20 in the only meeting between the schools.
One-and-done has been N.C. Wesleyan’s M.O. This season might be different, and at the very least, the belief is just that.
“I think every game we play will be a challenge,” Trader said. “We just hope to get to Sunday. They have to believe they can be a team that can get over the hump and win the conference tournament.”
Coach John Thompson’s squad opens play at 2 p.m. this afternoon against fifth-seeded Methodist.
The squads split the regular-season meetings.
N.C. Wesleyan (15-10, 6-8 USAS) enters the tournament on a two-game losing streak.
A victory by N.C. Wesleyan would likely put it in the semifinals Friday against top-seeded Christopher Newport.
Senior Brandon Givens was named the USA South’s Player of the Year after he averaged a league-best 27.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per contest. Givens is the third N.C. Wesleyan player to be named the league’s Player of the Year.
Jessie H. Nunery can be reached at 407-9959 or email@example.com